I’m not handy. When I think of that Red Green line – “If you can’t be handsome, at least be handy” – I’m relieved that Dianne sticks with me.
I’m not completely useless. I have changed a flat tire, although I much prefer roadside assistance. I can change a furnace filter, and I faithfully put fresh oil and gas in the snow-blower each fall. I even changed the spark plug on the lawn tractor once, although it took several trips to town to get the right one, and occupied a good part of my day.
My dad was very handy. He installed telephone switchboards for a living, so he knew a lot about electronics, and he could solder wire like nobody’s business. When he wasn’t working, well … he was working: keeping our aging Volkswagen Beetle running, building the backyard fence, wallpapering the bedrooms. And he loved to tinker, taking apart old clocks and radios to see how they worked. He even built his own sailboat.
Maybe I was adopted.
As much as I try to reject traditional gender roles, this inability of mine can feel emasculating. I overcame this guilt for a time by reasoning that it made more sense to pay a pro to do these things, and do them properly. Of course, that can be costly, and a proper job isn’t always the result.
And it can be embarrassing. Once I had what I thought was a radiator leak in an apartment I was renting. I called the landlord and he called the plumber. When I showed the plumber the problem, he looked at me in that way tradespeople can, closed a small valve which had loosened, and left. The service call lasted about three minutes.
Luckily, I have handy friends. And they’re always willing to lend me a hand. That’s the good part. Returning the favour is the tricky bit.
When we had a boatlift, they’d religiously, if reluctantly, trot over each spring and fall to help me with it; I used to say the chore involved twenty minutes of whining and ten minutes of lifting. The happiest day in their lives was when we sold the boat – and the lift.
My friends are good for small fixes, too. I had to change the lock on our front door once. I followed faithfully the obscure pictogram instructions. That worked well until I got to the part where I had to line up the long screws that connect the inner and outer pieces. I futzed around with that for an hour or so – OK, maybe not that long – until I called my friend Jim in desperation. It took him twenty minutes to drive over and about two minutes to fix my problem.
We bought a new car last year. It’s highly computerized, of course, and it features a warning light that tells you when to change the oil. Preparing for a road trip, I decided to check the oil myself. But the dipstick in the new car has a plastic, triangular bit to indicate the oil level, and for the life of me I wasn’t able to fit it back into the dipstick tube. With it only partly replaced, I drove the twenty minutes to Jim’s house, and, of course, within less than a minute, he slotted it into place.
This is all great, and I’m lucky to have such good friends. But the problem is that I feel like I’m constantly in favour debt – not that any of my friends makes me feel that way. No collection agency has called.
Sure, I can say thanks, offer a cold beer, buy lunch. But, to me, that doesn’t quite cut it.
Back when we still had the boat, I hit a rock and bent the propeller. We live far from a marina, so shuttling it there wasn’t an option. So, I bought a new prop and two of my friends – Stephane, a mechanic by profession, and all-around handyman Jim (again) – did the rest, leaning awkwardly and carefully over the back of the boat, on the boatlift, in the hot sun. I marveled at their handiwork and, seeing their sweat-stained shirts and greasy hands as they accepted a cold beer later, I was grovelingly grateful for all the effort they put in.
Not really knowing how to thank them properly, I resorted to self-deprecation: If you ever need help editing a book or writing a newspaper article, I told them, give me a call.
I’m still waiting.